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It was wet, really wet, but I’m glad I was there to spend some time with some of my kababayans [countymen] at a campsite near Guelph, Ontario.

There were about fifty people there, caregivers on their one weekly day off, and members of Migrante-Ontario (and it’s member groups). It says alot about the Filipino people how high spirits were despite the weather and the difficult lives in which they live.

Filipina’s make up over 95% of the live-in caregivers in Canada, despite their struggles, most Canadians (including Canadian born Filipinos), know little about them.

I am always impressed by the strength of these ladies (and some men), to leave their parents, partners, children, friends, and communities to go alone to a foriegn land to live under an employers roof–out of sight of any employee security protection that any other worker would expect in this country.

They often don’t see their families again for years, sometimes decades, creating strangers of parent and child, husband and wife. The resulting difficulties are multi layered in the Filipino-Canadian community (one example: Fils have the second highest high school drop out rates for the Asian community).

It rained for almost all of Saturday, clearing up for the evening. The people kept coming and going for the weekend, as not everyone could stay the night as not all could secure the time off. In fact some of the key Migrante organisers (who are caregivers themselves) missed it.

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Luckily it cleared up for the evening so that we could gather around the fire to tell stories and share songs. It’s often at events like this that I am saddened I cannot easily slip into song or play an instrument…

I heard them tell of their problems with employers and with government agents–to whose mercy they are dependant.  Much of the final say goes to individual whim, for there are often no clear guidelines–that’s why one agent could decide that Juana Tejada’s terminal cancer was a ‘burden’ to the health care system rather than grounds for compassion.  Both were in his power to grant.

I heard them tell of how they were almost discouraged from organising when a Filipino Canadian told them that they had no power to start up a group to petition the government as they were “only caregivers.” Our community’s crab mentality is crushingly depressing to me.

But mostly I heard them laughing–and this Filipino trait always makes me proud.

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The Live-in caregiver (LCP) Program is governed by five main conditions:

(1) They are only authorised to work as caregivers;

(2) They are not authorised to work for any other employer and/or in any other location than what is stated in their contract;

(3) They are subject to the manditory live-in requirement;

(4) They have temporary status;

(5) Unless authorised, they are cannot attend any educational institution or take any academic, professional, or vocational training courses.

Caregivers must complete 24 months of employment within a 36 months before they may apply for permanent residence. So basically they must live inside their employer’s roof (where they also pay rent) for two years, twenty-four hours a day, six days a week. I’m sure we can all see how this can easily lead to abusive situations.

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Migrante-Ontario has recently partnered with the United Steelworkers Union to create the Independent Workers Association an organisation to provide legal and dental services, accident and critical illness insurance, and more (see link). This is the organisation that arranged for the successful campaign to keep Juana in Canada.

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